Not even four years ago, Skip Kelley was on the cover of INC. ("The Conversion of Skip Kelley," February 1984). He looked good there: happy, strong, absolutely certain of where he was headed and why. A small-time remodeler with bigger dreams, Kelley, it seemed, had found the way to reach them. He had converted his business -- Kustom House Co. -- into a franchise of Mr. Build International, which offered all the management expertise and marketing clout he lacked. For a while the arrangement worked famously. In Kelley's first franchised year, sales rose 50%.
Something, however, went wrong. Today, Mr. Build Kustom House Co. is nothing but sad history. And Kelley is running a fledgling building-inspection company out of his house in Byfield, Mass.
Kelley doesn't blame Mr. Build for what happened. He got the growth the franchisor promised -- and then found out the hard way it wasn't what he was after. As sales climbed from $320,000 to $1.2 million from 1982 to 1985, Kelley found himself with a company he couldn't control. And one that for the first time started running into legal, accounting, and profitability problems. He tried shrinking Kustom House to its former size, but found he'd acquired too much overhead to do it. Eventually, in November 1985, Kelley decided he'd had enough -- and liquidated Mr. Build Kustom House to satisfy creditors.
"This whole thing cost me a business. It cost me a sports car. It cost me a wife," he says now. "It cost me a lot of things."
In the end, though, Kelley claims he is more content. He says that his decision to close the company was voluntary, and that he has since remarried -- his new wife helps him run the inspection venture. He values his less hectic lifestyle. "I wasn't the right guy to run a multimillion-dollar company," Kelley says simply. And he advises others to think about how much growth is really good for them. "Be absolutely sure that what you're aspiring to is what you want. Because, by golly, this is still America," he says, "and you just might get it."